Kiah Melverton: ‘It still doesn’t quite feel real’ to be an Olympian

Kiah Melverton diving in
Australian endurance swimmer Kiah Melverton finished 6th in the 800m and 1500m finals at Tokyo 2020. Photo: Kiah Melverton/Instagram

Kiah Melverton is an Australian endurance swimmer and after competing at World Championships and a Commonwealth Games, she is now an Olympian. Quarantining up north, Melverton reflects on her time in Tokyo.

“It still doesn’t quite feel real” for Melverton, who spoke to The Inner Sanctum from her quarantine room at Howard Springs in Darwin. 

“I’ve had a week here to kind of sit back and go through my emotions and kind of re-evaluate how it feels, and it does feel weird to say that I’m an Olympian,” she said.

Coming down from the high of the Olympics is a challenge for all athletes in mandatory hotel quarantine upon returning to Australia. On social media, the public is getting an insight into the different things keeping them busy during the slow fortnight of isolation. 

“We all get together on our balconies and do a workout in the morning, which is really nice. 

“Other than that, I’ve got uni work to catch up on and that takes up much of my time, unfortunately. It’s pretty boring.”

Colouring and reading, among other “little bits and pieces”, are what Melverton does to fill her day and, by the time the sun is setting, everyone is out on their balcony for a chat.

“The weather’s been really good. We’re lucky to have a balcony that gets a bit of sun, so I’ve been working on my tan in quarantine.”

Getting to the Olympics

Born on the coast, Melverton grew up on the water surf lifesaving with some swimming on the side. Swimming was key to her surf lifesaving, but it was not something she did competitively until she was a teenager. 

“When I was 15 I qualified for my first age nationals and something kind of flicked.

“I was like ‘oh hang on, I could probably be okay at swimming’ and then by the time I was 16 or 17 I decided to give up surf lifesaving and focus on swimming.

Now an 800m and 1500m specialist, Melverton has always been an endurance athlete.

“I’ve always been a better endurance athlete, that just kind of comes naturally to me, unfortunately. I wish I was a sprinter, I wish I could get away with doing the 100m freestyle or something.”

At the swimming trials for Rio 2016, the Olympics still seemed out of reach for Melverton despite being unwell in the lead-up and finishing third, just out of qualification. It was later that year that she made her debut on the Dolphins team. 

“I made my first senior team at the end of 2016 – World Short Course – and I think from that point on I thought, well I want to be on every senior team from here on out and then the Olympics comes around so quickly.”

Tokyo in her sights

At trials in June, Melverton was ready to go. It was a high-pressure environment with lots of emotion. 

“I heard someone say the pool at trials is usually half tears, half sweat,” she said. 

“There’s a lot of emotions at a trials and that really takes a toll out of you. The week after trials was really quite difficult, because you’re meant to be on this big high and the biggest experience of your life, but everyone’s kind of on this comedown after all the emotions. 

“Some people are ecstatic and there’s obviously people that are not, so it’s a very weird experience.”

Maddy Gough and Kiah Melverton (right) were selected on the Australian Olympic Team. Photo: Dolphins Swim Team/Instagram

After trials, it was a condensed schedule for the swimmers, with two weeks at home, two weeks in Cairns and then a staging camp planned for Japan. However, lockdowns across the country changed all this and Melverton was told on a Monday morning, a week earlier than planned, to get ready to leave. 

“All of a sudden I’m scrambling around to pack my suitcase for eight weeks away, a week earlier than what I thought. I had to cancel hair appointments, I had to cancel nail appointments, eyebrow appointments, you know all the really important things,” Melverton joked. 

“Then once we were up in Cairns it was kind of a bit of a bubble scenario, so I’ve been with these guys on the team for eight weeks in a bubble and now we’re quarantining together.” 

The staging camp was scrapped and the swimmers spent a month in North Queensland together, training and bonding as a team.

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It’s competition time

After settling into the village and getting a few sessions in at the pool, Melverton’s first race – the 1500m heat – came around quickly on the first Monday of competition. 

“Luckily for me, I think it was a good thing the 1500m was before the eight, I much prefer the eight and I do a lot of work for the eight. The 15 was almost a bonus event for me.”

The nerves were there, but she was said “it was good to get one out of the way before [she] had the main one.”

Despite it not being her pet event, Melverton knew a good swim in the first race would set her up for a strong meet. 

“I wanted to go in and do a really good swim, and I knew it would be hard to qualify for that final. 

“I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I would have liked to do a PB in that swim and really set myself up for a good week, but to scrape into the final was more than I could of asked for in terms of the actual swim execution.”

Melverton swam a 15:58.96 and came fourth in her heat, but with American Katie Ledecky posting an Olympic Record it was a fast heat and Melverton qualified seventh for the final.

The 1500m is a tactical event, in which you have time to “play around” and “see where other people are in the field”, but Melverton admits she hasn’t quite worked out how to race it just yet.

“I’m a really good racer, I like to sit next to people and race them. I don’t think I’ve figured out how to swim a 1500 on my own yet. I just go with what the person next to me is doing and get in a race.”

The final was just a day and a half later, a turnaround Melverton knew was coming, but didn’t quite expect to be so challenging. 

“I’m glad I snuck into that final, but then turning around and doing that final a day and a half later – I think really knocked it out of me. 

“It ended up being 3km of racing done before my 800.”

Kiah Melverton swims in the 1500m Freestyle final, finishing sixth with a time of 16:00.36. Photo: Australian Olympic Team/Twitter.

She finished sixth in the world with a time of 16:00.36, an incredible result for an event she doesn’t think she’s “worked out how to swim properly”. Her fellow Australia Maddy Gough came in eighth, while Ledecky comfortably won the gold medal.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where Melverton talks about racing the 800m, the team environment and her drive to be in Paris for the 2024 Games. 

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